Mountain Mayhem: To Camp or Not To Camp?
Living up in the mountains, particularly in the warmer months, a favorite activity for many is getting out and living in nature for a night or more, also known as camping. It seems like anyone who is anyone does it. They invest in the nice gear, hit up the popular spots and have a generally merry and fun time. This, for as long as I can recall, is how it’s always been.
However, there are a few people, even up here in Aspen, who are not the biggest fans of this outdoor activity. A good friend of mine — perhaps you know him, he’s Aspen’s No. 1 socialite — actually made me see camping in a slightly different light the other week. When a group of us were out in the middle of nowhere, underneath the night’s stars next to a warm campfire, he said he doesn’t understand what the big deal with camping is. That we all work our asses off daily to own or rent a home, yet we spend all this money on equipment so we can go out for a weekend and pretend to be homeless.
When he breaks it down like this, I have to admit, camping does seem like a silly practice. We take the time and energy to buy the right equipment, pack up our bags and find a spot we can rest our heads for the night that, most likely, will not be very comfortable. Growing up mostly in Colorado, camping has always been a way of life for me. Whether I was out on a school trip or with my family, spending a night in a tent felt like a tradition. I never questioned why we did this; I just joined in. However, now that Aspen’s No. 1 socialite has started to question it, I decided to look into the practice.
The kind of camping that many of us participate in is referred to as “recreational camping,” at least on the interwebs. Sleeping outside in tentlike structures has been around since the start of humanity. But it became a pleasurable pastime in the late 1800s or early 1900s. That’s when people began to camp in national forests, according to the National Forest Service. The organization credits the start of camping in this way: “Perhaps in response to often harsh and demanding working conditions, overcrowded city life, or a pervasive desire for a simpler existence, camping became a popular pastime.” Rules and regulations for camping on federal land were first put into place in 1902 as it became clear that this trend was not going away.
Today, we have come a long way from the early 1900s. Camping is intensely popular. The 2014 American Camper Report by the Outdoor Foundation stated that more than 40 million Americans camped in 2013, totaling 597.7 million days. In the United States, the “mountain region” is the preferred location to camp, no surprise there.
The report also states that the two most popular items to take camping, at least in 2013, were a tent and a sleeping bag, neither of which tend to be cheap purchases. In fact, very few things in outdoor recreation are cheap, as most of us know from living in Aspen. Americans spend $646 billion on outdoor recreation each year. Out of that, $143 billion is spent on camping, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. And this number is growing fast.
Perhaps we are overspending to participate in an activity that is far from glamorous (unless, of course, you are glamping). But people love it. The reports I read listed words that are associated with camping. Some of them are “escape,” “peace” and “happiness.” Those are good words to identify because they help explain why we participate in this activity. Being able to get close and truly intimate with nature is one of life’s greatest joys. Even if that means the bed isn’t particularly comfortable, the bugs are relentless and the food has some dirt on it. It may sound cheesy, but for me, being out in the wilderness is heaven, and I’m going to continue to do it as long as my legs will take me there … even if I look homeless in the process.
Barbara Platts is going camping this weekend, and she plans to take Aspen’s No. 1 socialite with her … even if he isn’t into it. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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